My father was a lawyer; I am a lawyer. I have never experienced not having a lawyer easily, and cost-effectively, at hand. And, I ponder often about the reality (and inequity) of most people not benefiting from a relationship with a good lawyer and often not having funds to pay for excellent legal work.
The email I reproduce below (names purposely changed) prompted this blog post, for the notion that more people might be able to avoid costly legal problems by at least getting a “no” from a lawyer. I provided my quick and prompt “no” response to the following email. By at least asking for my reaction to the email, the son now is able to stay away from the faulty prenuptial planning referenced in the email. He was smart to “cc” me with the email:
As you know Jane and I are getting married soon.
We love each other and I can’t imagine anything bad happening in the future, but I’ve heard some really ugly divorce stories about other marriages.
Just to be safe and to protect my inheritance, I want to look into a prenup.
I’ve read online that you can print a free document and have it notarized, but I don’t know if this will hold up in court. (think it will)
If I go through an attorney, then it will cost $2000 for the document.
Can you check with James to see what he recommends?
This absence of lawyer-oversight, in my opinion, ultimately opens the door down the road for costly litigation and legal problems, far more expensive than if preventive planning had been in place. Jimmy Carter, during his presidency, spoke (in 1978) at the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Bar Association and, in part, said: “Ninety percent of our lawyers serve 10 percent of our people. We are over-lawyered and under-represented.”
I intentionally restrain in this blog post from railing against certain aspects of our legal system. But, the above email is in line with the point that many people can be much better off in the thicket of our legal system if they — at a minimum – seek legal counsel to ask if they should not do something, as follows.
Most typically, a client engages a lawyer to move forward and create something for the client; for example, a sales contract, stock agreement, estate planning document, lease agreement, intellectual property protections, tax-savings planning, etc.
This moving forward for generating a document or plan-of-action also includes the lawyer inevitably having to consider and take into account what the client should not be doing. [As an aside, my comments for this blog post center on non-litigation legal work and on preventive efforts to reduce or avoid exposure to litigation.]
The above slice of the lawyer’s work dealing with the “should not be doing” element is itself an independent option for people who, for whatever reason, do not wish to pay for the lawyer to move forward with document(s) or a plan-of action.
There can be great value in being able to ask a lawyer about what one should not do, such as not signing a proposed employment agreement, not signing a proposed business document, not signing lawsuit settlement papers, not obtaining an internet Last Will and Testament or other free or low-cost legal documents. In other words, at least knowing what not to do reduces a considerable number of costly legal issues and problems down the road. A protective “no.”
I am pleased to announce that Atlanta lawyer Cheryl R. Treadwell on May 1 will be joining me in our new law firm KaneTreadwell Law. We will relocate our offices to the Monarch Plaza in Atlanta on Peachtree Road (across from Lenox Square). Cheryl started her career in Chamberlain Hrdlicka’s litigation group. She was also a lawyer in the City of Atlanta’s legal department. We both bring together our experience in a way that will be more broadly beneficial for our clients. More details to follow.
My wife and kids are out of town for the summer, which has given me a great deal of time alone with our two dogs to ponder the ideas leading up to this belated Fathers’ Day post. This post is directed primarily to fathers who are lawyers. But, it has universal application for all fathers.
This is a philosophical post. And, I realize it may not be of interest to some readers; if so, simply stop reading here. Another reason for this post is that I am purposely adding it digitally to the perpetual web for my wife and kids, for their access now and later.
Here is the point of this blog. Lawyers are called upon to be the Rock of Gibraltar for handling important matters that affect clients’ lives and well-being. Lawyers are often the last resort with a responsibility that allows the buck to pass to no one else. The responsibility lies fully with the lawyer. Success or failure.
A lawyer when called upon to act or protect the interests of his or her clients cannot take on that important responsibility with an “I can’t”, “yes-man”, doubtful, or weak mindset. The lawyer – in the midst of the uncertainty with any disputed issue — must stand firm and resolute, reacting to the inevitable ebb and flow of the task that includes at times hope, doubt, praise, criticism, wins, losses, elation, disappointment, diversions and fatigue.
Here is my belated Father’s Day point:
My guess is that most lawyers (including me) pass along to their children the notion of being at all times strong, at all times resolute, at all times independent, at all times possessing a strength of mind and presence to handle any situation. All beneficial characteristics that can enable a child to chart life as he or she so chooses for any situation, no matter how difficult.
But, this heavy emphasis on strength and self-reliance also carries with it a strongly unspoken denial of our children’s feelings and emotions. Ask the children or spouse of a lawyer if my above summary is off point. My guess is it accurately fits most lawyers (both mothers and fathers who are lawyers).
On the flip side, which is an epiphany for me during this summer solitude, is what we lawyers fail to give our children.
That is, blinded by wanting our children to possess lawyer-like strength and fortitude, we lawyers do not allow our children to experience more fully their own development and metabolism of how to deal with their vulnerabilities.
We effectively thwart and constrict our children’s emotional bandwidth in response to how they otherwise can (and will) evolve when faced with struggles, disappointment, emotional-pain, periodic feelings of weakness, doubt, etc. Merely expecting our children to act like junior-lawyers in response to life and their circumstances is a kind of parental fundamentalism. Not much different than parents who believe religious fundamentalism gives their children an upper edge.
So, fathers; by all means continue to help your children develop strength and fortitude. These are gifts you are giving them. However, the change I recommend (that applies to me as a father) also is to allow room for your children to experience and develop their own response to the vast array of feelings and emotions that life presents. Against the backdrop of strength and fortitude, do not expect or require a sobriety of emotion for your children.
The theme of this post is for the legal services consumer simply to ask his or her lawyer the following question: “Would you buy your own legal services from your law firm, and why?” And, I am not suggesting there cannot be a suitable, good reply to this question. I am saying the question helps consumers consider relevant factors in assessing legal services, including my recommendations below.
Among my persistent attempts to try and compel clients to consider preventive legal and tax planning to avoid down-the-road costly disputes and legal fees, I harp on the point that a legal services consumer faces the following economic conundrum when obtaining legal services, whether preventive or litigation, etc.:
- There is realistically no way the consumer can gauge the quality of the legal services he or she receives; and
- Without being able to assess the quality, the consumer has no idea of what the market cost is (or should be) for the legal services.
Considering the above two factors, and because law firms typically measure lawyer performance primarily on a lawyer’s billable hours, the consumer absolutely must keep a close eye on the efficiency of how his or her lawyer provides legal services.
Among the factors you, as a client, can consider are:
(1) Does your lawyer care about your situation or case? This might sound trite, but I believe most clients are able to perceive this important factor. In other words, you do not want to be merely a cog in the wheel of your lawyer’s busy workload.
(2) Does your lawyer push down most of the work to lower level members of the law firm? This arises when your invoice shows 3 or 4 (or more) different billing lawyers, and in most cases newer lawyers, who are charging time to your file. Essentially, you are helping pay to train these other lawyers.
There is no doubt that some work can be handled well by newer lawyers in the firm; but keep an eye on whether these other lawyers are predominantly on the steep side of the learning curve. Require a balance by limiting this push-down approach. Let someone else pay the bulk of their training. Don’t just leave this factor open-ended.
Accordingly, and especially during the what-if, strategic, and developmental stage of your legal work, ask your lawyer to handle the bulk of your work himself or herself, without merely passing it down to a multitude of lesser-experienced lawyers. The judgment and experience of a more seasoned lawyer provide the greater value for legal services, compared merely to the lower hourly-rates of newer lawyers.
(3) Does your lawyer bring other lawyers to his or her meetings and telephone conferences, essentially as the note takers? How many meetings have you attended where the note-taking lawyers essentially say or contribute nothing during the meeting? Discuss this set-up with your lawyer and ask if (and why) this is necessary for your situation.
(4) Does your lawyer use email and other modern digital technology to enhance his or her efficiency? This may possibly reflect where your lawyer falls on the scale of creative openness to change and progressive ideas. [Some lawyers still refuse to use email and have their assistants print hard copies of their emails.]
(5) Do you get trailing U.S. mail hard copies of letters and memos from your lawyer 2 or 3 days after the matter has already been addressed or completed with earlier emails, phone calls, etc.? Tell your lawyer you do not need these hard-copy mailings to the extent of the related additional time charge and expense.
(6) Ask your lawyer, as part of his or her work, to provide you with short, bulleted, talking-point emails, letters, and memos. This suggestion goes to how much of your invoice reflects the time-consuming, law-review mentality among most lawyers (including me).
That is, by our nature and competitive law school training, we lawyers prefer that every single communication we provide to clients (and to anyone) be law-review perfect. An A+ grade product. This A+ approach is, no doubt, a necessary and essential goal for final court papers, briefs, legal documents, contracts, trusts, etc. And, a lawyer’s mindset and thought-process at all times must be at an A+ quality level.
But, for every email, memo, or draft document, if your lawyer clocks you for final, law-review perfection you will end up with a much larger legal bill than necessary. Tell your lawyer on the front end: “For letters, emails, memos, etc., give me only a rough outline of ideas first and we can discuss them as we progress along, etc.” Then, as necessary, your lawyer can polish to law-review perfection the final communications or other documents. This recommendation goes directly to the time-efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your legal services.
(7) Finally, my late father was a lawyer. I am a lawyer. The point here is that most lawyers handle the bulk of their own legal needs. Few lawyers (including me) face — as a consumer — the burden of paying a legal invoice. Lawyers can, however, be empathic and place themselves in the clients’ shoes so as to help better address how a client more effectively can obtain legal services.
We were looking at old family videos last night. Below is a screenshot. I am very fortunate to have my wonderful wife Andrea. It is not easy for her (or anyone) being married to a lawyer, a notion I try and keep in mind as much as possible with my family and friends. That is all I say in this post, so as not to take away from this blog-post anniversary wish for my wife Andrea. All my love from James.
In short, the key point of this blog post is about the “threshold” of your own lawyer. Is he or she too overly concerned about what others think? Is your lawyer too much a people-pleaser? Simply a salesman? Or, on the other hand, is your lawyer so blind to others that he is a sloppy, shoot-from-the-hip gunslinger?
My related basketball discussion below helps illustrate the point that we generally each have our own threshold level. Make sure you think about this when you choose a lawyer.
Now, more about this threshold. I listen frequently to podcasts. They provide an enjoyable, easy, brief glimpse at some of the most cutting edge and progressive thinkers. These podcasts help expand my understanding of where our world is, and where it is heading. I find this extremely exciting, for lack of a better word. And, informative in ways that I try to adapt to my personal and lawyering life.
Now, what about basketball? A recent This American Life podcast, called “Choosing Wrong”, includes a striking discussion about the underhand free-throw in basketball. It includes a great interview with former NBA star Rick Barry, who holds the best free-throw percentage in NBA history. He used an underhand free-throw style. Click here for the podcast.
But, the broader point of this podcast goes beyond basketball. The podcast addresses the notion of each person’s own threshold. That is, in general terms, how many other people does it take for a person to cave-in and follow the crowd, contrary to their own personal preference?
In other words, how confident and independent is a person and what is that person’s threshold for sticking to his or her own ideas, choices, preferences, etc.?
This podcast, better than any other method I have heard, poignantly lays this question fundamentally before the listener.
Every summer I make my personal suggestion to our younger, summer law student associates that they stop using “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am”, etc. In most cases their response is that it is a learned habit showing respect. This is not a surprise. And, BTW, this blog post is solely my own personal view. I speak for no one else.
But, my long-held personal perspective is that “Yes Sir / Ma’am” is appropriate only in situations where one’s role is purposely ranked and subordinate as part of the job. And, the only situation I think that fits this role is the military. I have no opposition to “Yes Sir / Ma’am” in that case.
But, I oppose its use in virtually all other cases. I do not see other relationships as a purposeful subordination, such as, merely for examples, adult-child, teacher-student, lawyer-assistant, boss-employee, office worker-janitorial staff, dinner customer-server, and so forth.
Here is a thought. And, some readers will likely disagree. The idea that “respect” is the basis for “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” is a red-herring. Only those already in a dominant position of power (or at least they think so of themselves) get hung-up on others showing respect. By contrast, my view is that respect means equality. And, under that notion I owe no one a “Yes Sir” and they owe me no “Yes Sir”. We are equals.
Finally, I end this blog with a legal point readers might find interesting. The State of Louisiana has a state law that mandates its schools require the use by students of “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” when any public school student is speaking with any public school system employee while on school property or at a school-sponsored event. Click here for the law.
I preface this blog post by stating I am virtually paperless in my law practice. My notes, case research, documents, are nearly all on my iPad. This has greatly added to my overall efficiency and organization. Click here for my earlier post about my use of this iPad technology.
But, I continue to grapple with how best to deal with the onslaught of incoming emails each day. Essentially, how do we daily all best handle 60 to 100 emails and remain focused and efficient with our work? This is a universal question not limited to lawyering.
My best approach to date is to identify three or so tasks each day that I focus on completing to the exclusion of everything else. For example, let’s say I am preparing a motion for summary judgment. Ideally I set a predetermined time frame in which I strive to finish that work. I find this self-imposed pressure of a finite, targeted amount of time helps greatly with my efficiency and focus. Otherwise, these tasks with an open-ended time slate, at least for me, tend to dilute my effort and attention especially with the mass of other possible distractions.
Also, the above set-up requires closed-door, uninterrupted deep thinking. I, therefore, move away from my desk to another area of my office and concentrate, especially without my desktop computer calling out to me the persistent siren call: “Check and respond to your emails!”
On this notion of deep thinking, I recently stumbled across a great podcast, titled “The Value of Deep Work in the Age of Distraction”. It is excellent and should be required listening for all of us. Click here for the podcast link. I urge you to listen to this podcast. You will likely be enthusiastically recommending it to others.
My kids and I saw the Tom Hanks movie Bridge of Spies this past weekend. This is not a spoiler to say that Hanks plays an insurance defense lawyer who, court-appointed, represents an alleged Russian spy. This takes place in the heat of the cold war 1957.
The Russian word Правозащитник is used in the movie. It translates generally to “standing man” for someone who will stand up and fight without caving in, whether in defending justice, truth, a friend, or defending principles or rights, etc.
[Readers: please correct me if I am using the incorrect Russian word; To my surprise, I find no Google references to the actual Russian word from this movie.]
Tom Hanks is a standing-man lawyer. And, Bridge of Spies is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. It also highlights very powerfully the question of whether a lawyer has the courage and fortitude to remain a standing man (or woman) in representing a client. That is, can the lawyer remain resolute in the face of substantial, opposing headwinds and not bow down to the demands of others, whether from other lawyers, family members, neighbors, political or religious dogma, or social pressures, etc.?
I have said often over the years that if a lawyer does not possess an adequate level of personal independence and resolve, how can that lawyer stand firmly with courage and fortitude on behalf of a client? Правозащитник